2016 has been a strange year. We've lost some of the world's most brilliant minds and we've also seen two of the biggest upsets in modern politics - the latter having led to a feeling of uncertainty across both the consumer and business worlds. In the advertising industry in which I work, this feeling has presented brands with two equally good but strikingly opposed strategies.
On the one hand, advertisers can connect with people by offering authenticity and realism - a Marketing Week article last week said more and more companies are turning towards using real people in real situations for their ad campaigns. But on the other, as illustrated by the recent string of Christmas ads featuring the likes of Buster the Boxer and Kevin the Carrot, brands also have the opportunity to help people escape real life, to be transported into fantasy or entertained by CGI animals.
At this time of year we see the greatest surge in advertising narrative and storytelling. Household brands see themselves as the self-proclaimed authority in getting everybody into the Christmas spirit, and fight for the crown of best Christmas ad. The lead-up and excitement has become so great that Christmas adverts, like Hollywood movies, now have their own teaser adverts that drive conversation andbuild anticipation around a specific social media hashtag.
But there are companies moving away from gimmicky advertising at Christmas - brands like TalkTalk showing a focus on the customer with its 'This Stuff Matters' campaign, and Iceland's 'Power of Frozen' spot which shows real people consuming the supermarket's products at home. Driven by the rise of the 'Gogglebox' TV format, there's a strong trend of brands using real people and families in their ads, moving away from celebrity endorsement in a bid to better connect with potential customers. Sainsbury's Christmas ad does a good job of combining an animated style with something familiar, cleverly ticking both the fantasy and realism boxes.
Realism is of course a strategy that has worked for many years for charities, but the tried and tested formula is in need of a shake-up. We live in a world where it is much easier to engage emotionally with an audience by detaching them from real world issues and connecting them with the things that make them happy. The UK has become desensitised to causes and appeals - they no longer want to see the horrible things going on in the world, and having it shown to them in an ad break is no longer an effective approach.
WaterAid launched its winter campaign 'Rain for Good' around the same time the big Christmas ads were coming out. The charity faced another challenge in getting an appeal noticed by audiences apparently more receptive to escapism and fantasy over reality at this time of year. Our approach at Atomic London, as WaterAid's ad agency, was to turn the traditional appeal format on its head. Rather than highlight the ongoing problem, we flipped it around to make the charity's amazing progress to date the core focus.
We featured a real girl called Claudia from a village in Zambia that has been helped tremendously by WaterAid's charity work and has transformed the lives of those living there. We picked an upbeat song with poignant lyrics ("Sunshine on a Rainy Day" by 90s pop icon Zoe) to drive a powerful message and leave viewers feeling happy and uplifted. We juxtaposed images of the cold, dark, rainy UK with the vibrancy of the Zambian village - a healthy, happy community that now has access to a water tap. The ad is raw, real and - above all else - positive. We've been pleased to hear that it's had a great response so far.
At Christmas, ads give us the opportunity to escape from the rest of the year and bask in the warmth that Christmas brings. But the success of those ads year after year suggests that positivity is something the British public could do with all year round.